MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Kairos urges government action in mining abroad

Published by MAC on 2005-10-28

Kairos urges government action in mining abroad

Marites N. Sison, Anglican Journal

October 28, 2005

Kairos, a Canadian ecumenical justice group, has accused the federal government of failing to take action that would compel Canadian mining companies to respect human rights and adhere to environmental standards when operating overseas.

Kairos was responding to a government report in October that dismissed a proposal made last June by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade for Ottawa to adopt concrete regulatory measures rather than voluntary codes of conduct for Canadian companies doing business abroad. Kairos is an umbrella group of 11 Canadian churches (including the Anglican Church of Canada) and church agencies working for social justice.

Earlier, business leaders, law professors, environmental activists and church leaders including Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, urged Prime Minister Paul Martin to adopt the proposal.

"Many Canadian companies make important contributions to local economies. However, the human rights and environmental practices of some Canadian companies operating abroad are a growing concern," they said in a letter dated Oct. 13. "In recent years, allegations of forced dislocation, assaults and even killings by security forces, contamination of lands, support for repressive regimes, and violation of workers' and indigenous rights, have been associated with the activities of specific Canadian companies."

Such activities, they added, not only harm Canada's reputation abroad, but also "create a perverse set of economic incentives, as more ethical companies are placed at a competitive disadvantage to those that would place the bottom line above adherence to internationally recognized legal and ethical norms to which Canada itself is already committed," said the letter.

The letter questioned why Ottawa was not holding such companies into account when many of them benefit from government's political assistance and financial support (for example, through Export Development Canada's project support and political risk insurance).

"Human rights impact assessments are one tool the government can use to ensure that Canadian companies are meeting these standards," the letter said.

Kairos pointed to what it called two "urgent" cases involving Canadian mining companies in Mexico and the Philippines.

Last October, an explosion shook the historic town of Cerro de San Pedro, Mexico, when Toronto-based Metallica Resources, Inc., began blasting to develop an open pit gold and silver mine, which the community has been opposing for over 10 years now, said Kairos in a statement. A citizens' group has won several legal battles against the company but it has begun its operations with the backing of some Mexican federal government agencies.

"How long will the government keep its head in the sand around Canadian mining abuses overseas?" asked Rev. Mark Lewis, former moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, who traveled to Cerro de San Pedro with a Kairos delegation in March 2005.

The federal government has also not investigated the Canatuan Mine Project in the Philippines, despite testimonies given by Philippine indigenous leaders about the forced relocation of people and the "negative environmental impacts" of the project. Canatuan mine is owned by a Calgary-based company, TVI Pacific Inc.

Mexican and Philippine towns bear brunt of destructive Canadian mining practices: federal government fails to respond

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